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Maine Faces 10-Year, $2.2B Highway Need

Tue September 04, 2007 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

Current transportation funding levels are insufficient to address needed maintenance and improvements on Maine’s highways and accommodate future growth, leading to increased road and bridge deterioration and roadway congestion, according to a report released recently by TRIP, a national non-profit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.

The report, “Future Mobility in Maine: Meeting the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility,” examines transportation funding, road and bridge conditions, traffic congestion, economic development and traffic safety.

According to the TRIP report, Maine faces a transportation funding shortfall of $2.2 billion from 2007 to 2016, leaving the state unable to proceed with many critical highway and bridge improvement projects.

Some of the needed, but currently unfunded, projects include: improvements to Interstate 295 in the Portland area to relieve traffic congestion and improve safety; an improved connector between Interstate 395 and Route 9 to improve the movement of goods and people in this corridor; improvements to Route 2 in western Maine to improve traffic safety; and the improvement of several significant Maine bridges.

According to TRIP, nearly one-third of major roads in Maine are in poor and mediocre condition. The report contains a list of the 25 most deteriorated sections of roadway in the state, which include a section of State Route 7 in Dexter, a section of US Route 1A in Hampden, and a portion of Webster Street in Lewiston.

“TRIP’s report confirms what is no surprise to the citizens and businesses of Maine. In order to move Maine forward, we must make investment in our roads and bridges a higher priority. Our roads and bridges are deteriorating at a rapid rate, and we can and we must do better,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Approximately one-third of bridges in Maine show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards. Nearly half — 49 percent — of Maine’s bridges are 50 or more years old. Most bridges are designed to last approximately 50 years before requiring significant repairs. Current funding levels are inadequate to keep pace with the rate of bridge deterioration in the state.

The TRIP report contains a list of the 30 most deficient bridges in the state, which include bridges on: Route 180 over Graham Lake Outlet in Ellsworth, Granite Street over Millinocket Stream in Millinocket, and Route 219 over the West Channel of the Androscoggin River in Turner/Leeds.

Increases in population and vehicle travel have placed additional stresses on Maine’s highway transportation system, resulting in congestion on key urban and summer travel routes. Vehicle travel in Maine increased 26 percent from 1990 to 2005, and is expected to increase by 25 percent by 2020.

The TRIP report contains a list of the 25 most congested roadways in Maine, which includes: I-295 Northbound and Southbound in South Portland, Route 1 near Belfast and Searsport, Route 1 near Wiscasset and Edgecomb, Route 26 through Oxford, Norway and Paris, and US 1A in Holden.

According to the TRIP report, traffic fatalities on Maine’s rural, non-Interstate roads occur at a rate nearly four times greater than fatalities on all other roads in the state. Eighty percent of traffic fatalities that occurred in Maine in 2005 were on rural, non-Interstate roads, even though these roads carry only 57 percent of traffic in the state.

On average, nearly 200 people were killed each year in motor vehicle crashes in Maine from 2001 to 2005.

“Providing additional funding for needed highway projects is essential if Maine’s residents, businesses and visitors are to enjoy a transportation network that is safe, smooth and efficient. Needed maintenance and improvements will help make the roads safer, while ensuring that congestion and deterioration on the state’s roads do not worsen,” said William M. Wilkins, TRIP executive director.

Additional findings from the TRIP report:

• According to the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), from 2007 to 2016, $5.4 billion is needed to allow the state to significantly improve road and bridge conditions, make reasonable roadway safety improvements, address needed traffic congestion relief and enhance economic development opportunities. However, MaineDOT estimates that anticipated highway funding levels during this time period will be only $3.2 billion.

• Over the past three years, the average cost of materials used for highway construction, including asphalt, concrete, steel, lumber and diesel has increased by 33 percent.

• Roads in need of repair cost each Maine motorist an average of $285 annually in extra vehicle operating costs — $286 million statewide. These costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional vehicle repair costs, increased fuel consumption and increased tire wear.

• MaineDOT estimates that it needs to replace or significantly repair 32 bridges per year in order to keep the current share of bridges that are deficient from increasing. But at current funding levels, MaineDOT estimates that it only has adequate funding to replace or significantly repair 14 bridges per year.

MaineDOT’s Own Report Echoes TRIP

In April of this year, MaineDOT released its own comprehensive highway status report to the public, “Connecting Maine: Planning Our Transportation Future.”

Confronting rapid changes and mounting challenges — top among them the increasing funding gap noted by TRIP — MaineDOT said that the state’s transportation system over the next two decades will be guided by an innovative, proactive plan that uses performance-based strategic investments and regional collaboration, with particular focus on community preservation and quality of life.

The long-range (20-year) plan was presented to the State Legislature’s Transportation Committee for public comments over a two-month period. The plan is the result of several years of internal review, and of collaboration with Maine scholars, economists, and citizens, to assess Maine’s transportation system, its future challenges, and its opportunities.

“Connecting Maine” outlines strategic investments that would improve the transportation system and support economic development by creating jobs, boosting industrial competitiveness, facilitating freight and passenger travel, and enhancing security, while protecting Maine’s environment, and limiting sprawl and congestion.

“Connecting Maine is a blueprint for the future of Maine’s transportation system that allows the state to thrive and grow, while maintaining its character,” said MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole. “This plan is built on the understanding that transportation is central to every Maine person, every day of their lives. Transportation planning can no longer be custodial — that is, fixing things as they break. It must be practical and strategic to meet challenges and seize opportunities.”

“Connecting Maine” also warns that, “Maine is losing ground in its struggle to maintain and improve a transportation system that’s vital to its economic well-being.”

Funding shortfalls, driven by spiraling construction costs, have forced MaineDOT to defer some $200 million in construction projects since 2005. Revenues are not keeping pace with the loss of buying power, and some revenue sources are shrinking.

It notes, too, that Maine’s transportation infrastructure is aging, and demographic and economic changes are placing new stresses on the system. Echoing the TRIP report, without new or expanded state and/or federal resources, the gap between projected funding for transportation and what is needed for strategic investments will not be filled.

Funding shortfalls for MaineDOT strategic capital investment alone are projected to reach $4 billion over the next 20 years. When other system needs like those of municipalities and the Maine Turnpike are included, those unmet needs grow to more than $9 billion. In April, the Maine Legislature approved most of Gov. John E. Baldacci’s transportation bond proposal, sending an unprecedented $136 million in transportation bonds to voters, who approved it.

The bond initiative is a critical funding source for long-term capital projects such as highway reconstruction, bridges and modal investments.

“The Legislature took an important step by approving a $136 million investment in the state’s roads, bridges and transportation network,” said Gov. Baldacci. “But we must also look for a solution to the ongoing question of how to fund transportation that will help grow the state’s economy and create jobs. In a global economy, we must have the infrastructure to move people across the state and goods around the world.”

“Connecting Maine” explores the range of possibilities for addressing the ongoing and growing funding challenge.

“We must maximize state and federal resources by investing them strategically and regionally,” said Greg Nadeau, MaineDOT’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Planning & Communications. “Resources will always lag behind need, so it’s vital that we maximize benefit by integrating transportation modes and systems, and minimize impact on communities.”

Six ’Steel Deck Truss’ Bridges Are Sound

On the plus side, six critical bridges passed muster earlier this month in Maine. On Aug. 10, Gov. Baldacci inspected the Augusta Memorial Bridge with engineers from MaineDOT.

The Augusta Memorial Bridge is one of six “deck truss” bridges in Maine, which are of the same structural type as the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis earlier this month. One of these six bridges runs between Maine and New Hampshire, carrying the Route 1 Bypass.

All six bridges have now been re-inspected.

“These bridges are safe,” Gov. Baldacci said after speaking with John Buxton, MaineDOT’s lead bridge maintenance engineer, and Scott Harris, the State’s lead bridge inspector. “I wanted to see firsthand what it is the engineers look for and better understand the job that they do. They’ve done a great job reacting to a terrible tragedy and making sure our bridges are safe.”

A rehabilitation project was completed on the Augusta Memorial Bridge last year, and Buxton said that it is in good condition. He also said that there were no unexpected findings during the inspections conducted on the other bridges in Maine. MaineDOT plans to replace the Back River Bridge in Arrowsic in 2008, and will continue to monitor the condition of these and all of Maine’s bridges as part of the department’s ongoing bridge inspection program.

“Things were as good as we would expect,” Buxton said. “I want to stress that all of these bridges are safe.”

“We’re lucky that we have the expertise of such well-qualified engineers,” Gov. Baldacci said. “I recognize how difficult this job is, and I wanted to go out with them.”

On Aug. 2, Gov. Baldacci signed an executive order directing MaineDOT to review its bridge inspection program to assure it continues to meet or exceed all applicable federal standards.

“We’ve looked at the bridges to make sure they’re safe,” Gov. Baldacci said. “Now we’re going to inspect the inspection program and make sure it’s as effective as possible.”

MaineDOT is to report back findings from the review as soon as they become available and no later than 90 days from the date of the executive order.

(Founded in 1971, TRIP of Washington, D.C., is a non-profit organization that researches, evaluates and distributes economic and technical data on highway transportation issues. TRIP is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers; businesses involved in highway engineering, construction and finance; labor unions; and organizations concerned with an efficient and safe highway transportation network.)


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